Baseball is losing its face

Jeter

Late last August, here at ESPN.com, we took a poll. It turned out to be just the latest, greatest window into the true legacy of Derek Jeter.

We commissioned our friends at Turnkey Intelligence, one of America's most prominent sports polling firms, to ask people a question that the sport of baseball needs to pay close attention to -- now more than ever:

Who's the Face of Baseball?

Guess who won?

Yep.

When Turnkey gave 1,028 baseball fans a list of players that did not include Alex Rodriguez, who had somehow wriggled his way into a few "SportsCenter" segments at the time, and told those fans they could pick up to three players they'd identify as the Face of Baseball, Jeter pretty much squashed the rest of the field.

He was chosen by 38 percent of those polled. As opposed to 25 percent for the runner-up, Miguel Cabrera. And once you got past those two, nobody was really even in the same solar system.

Jeter was picked by more than double the number of folks who named David Ortiz (17 percent) or Mike Trout (16) or Mariano Rivera (12). He quadrupled Bryce Harper (9 percent) -- and got more than seven times as many votes as your other official Bright Young Stars of the Game, Andrew McCutchen and Buster Posey (5 percent each).

What was interesting about that, of course, was: You couldn't even find Derek Jeter on the field at the time. He'd played five games all season at that point. He'd wind up playing 17 games all year.

And the baseball fans of the United States of America still thought he was the Face of Baseball.

Wow. Digest that for a minute.

So what does that tell us about him? And about the sport he's about to wave adios to at the end of this season?

It tells us this sport has another monstrous challenge on its hands, doesn't it? How does any sport replicate what Derek Jeter has meant to baseball over the last decade and a half -- and still does? Is that even possible?

Oh, the Yankees will find another shortstop. There's a 100 percent probability of that. And Jeter will find stuff to do that probably doesn't involve spending 14 hours a day curled up in a chair playing Sudoku.

But where does baseball find the next Derek Jeter? Good luck on that.

"First of all, he's an ambassador for the game," said Steve Seiferheld, the senior vice president at Turnkey. "If you had to pick one person in the sport of baseball to represent the sport at, like, a presidential dinner, it would be Jeter. And with him announcing he won't be that guy next year, they have to figure out who it's going to be."

Seiferheld added, "Face it, the sport has gotten lucky. They're fortunate they've had someone like that in a big market, who did the publicizing for them, and who played his whole career for one franchise. But now that he's about to go away, they need to identify someone who can play that role and probably offer him some support to help him get there."

Now your first reaction is undoubtedly to say: What about Mike Trout? Excellent answer. But let's think about the road Trout would need to travel to become the next Derek Jeter.

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